All signs indicate that a massive shipment of oil refinery equipment destined for Canada will embark Sunday night from the Port of Umatilla, traveling through Eastern Oregon before the load eventually crosses state lines into southern Idaho.
And while the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) have not come out in opposition of the megaload itself, they and others do have concerns about the process. CTUIR spokesman Chuck Sams said the state had not consulted with the tribes about the project heading through their ceded territory, as required by law.
The tribes are not planning any formal protests, Sams said, but another group of climate activists is planning to arrive from across the state for a peaceful demonstration at the Port of Umatilla.
One organizer, Jim Powers of Albany, said they are increasingly concerned about carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and the negative effects they will have on future generations. Protesters are concerned that Oregon is allowing its highways to contribute to the processing of dirty oil in Canada.
“We’re lending our roads to being part of a global system that will be really bad for our children and grandchildren,” Powers said. “Anything that facilitates an increase in carbon emissions is a bad idea. It goes against our self-interest.”
The group will gather at 10 pm on Sunday, carrying signs to raise awareness of the issue. Powers said hundreds might make the trip, and questioned the lack of public input on the permitting process.
“I see things wrong at many levels with this project,” he said. “By having a protest, we’re hoping to put some pressure on ODOT [the Oregon Department of Transportation] to expand their study on this project and prevent future loads from going through.”
Omega Morgan spokeswoman Holly Zander said she has no knowledge of the protests, but knows people are very passionate about the topic. She said there will be no digging, no trimming of trees, and nothing else about the shipment that will cause any damage to the environment.
“People are focusing more on the end destination, and not so much the transportation that Omega Morgan does,” she said. “I don’t think people will even really notice this coming through their communities.”
The first of three proposed “megaloads” hauled by Hillsboro-based Omega Morgan, plans to begin its journey heading south on Highway 395 through Hermiston, east on Interstate 84 into Pendleton, and south again on Highway 395 through Pilot Rock, Ukiah, and Long Creek.
Final permitting is not yet approved by the Oregon Department of Transportation, though regional spokesman Tom Strandberg said plans are moving forward to have the 22-foot-wide, 376-foot-long, 901,000-pound oversize load on the road early next week.
Drivers can expect delays of up to 20 minutes, as the behemoth makes its way slowly through the area. Because the load takes up both lanes of traffic on two-lane highways, it will move only between 8 pm and 6 am and pull over about every seven miles to let vehicles pass.
The shipment is also scheduled to halt during the Thanksgiving holiday, Strandberg said, and then proceed after the weekend. ODOT will post updates online at TripCheck, advising which stretch of highway is impacted at any given time.
“It will take several days to get through the region,” Strandberg said. “We want to make sure it’s safe for the traveling public, our (road) infrastructure, and the surrounding environment.”
Omega Morgan plans to truck two more megaloads along the same route sometime in December and January, according to Zander. Exact dates have not been finalized.
The company, hired by a subsidiary of General Electric Company, is transporting the 96-foot water purification vessel to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, where oil is extracted for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Manufactured in Portland, the vessel will be barged up the Columbia River to the Port of Umatilla, where the load must run south before it can run north.
Previous shipments started at the Port of Wilma, where Omega Morgan trucked the megaloads east and north on U.S. Highways 12 and 95. But environmentalists and leaders of the Nez Perce Tribe protested the route that passed through the reservation and a federally designated scenic river corridor on Highway 12.
Tribal police arrested 28 protestors blocking the road during a shipment in August. A month later, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered the megaloads to stop using the route until a study on effects is complete.
“Any time we go on any route, we have to go through the same permitting process,” Zander said. “We do pretty extensive engineering to make sure the load will fit every curve and every turn.”
(By George Plaven, East Oregonian)